Overseas quotas on clubs' agenda

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The Independent Online

Super League clubs are to take action to reduce the numbers of overseas players in the competition. A meeting of clubs last week approved the principle of a self-imposed limit and measures could be introduced as early as next month.

Under the proposals, the quota would be gradually reduced over the next few years. Crucially, this would apply to players with EU passports and players who come under the Kolpak ruling who are currently unrestricted and have come to Britain in large numbers.

"There has been a long-standing objective to encourage the production of more players qualified to play for Great Britain and these proposals are similar to those being pursued by Uefa," the Rugby Football League's chief operating officer, Nigel Wood, said.

"All the Super League clubs were absolutely supportive of the principle, to the point where the adoption of the rules might take place at the next meeting in March, rather than waiting for the annual regulatory meeting in June."

The move is a response to what is perceived as the biggest problem in the British game - the way that clubs often field a majority of overseas players.

Great Britain's failure in the past two Tri-Nations tournaments has concentrated minds with the departing national team coach, Brian Noble, making the point that he has been forced to select from too shallow a pool of talent, particularly in key decision-making positions.

Although this change will be welcomed, it will not make an immediate diff-erence because of the numbers of players - particularly Pacific islanders - who are under contract for this season and beyond. Nor is it intended to discourage the arrival of world-class players such as Leeds' new New Zealand full-back, Brent Webb. The RFL also wants to introduce measures to encourage clubs to produce more of their own players.

Under the new proposals, 20 per cent of clubs' first-team squad will have to have come through their own Academy systems. Players still in the Academy would not count on clubs' salary caps, thus effectively rewarding them for growing their own talent.

As the salary cap becomes more pliable in that respect it will be more strictly patrolled during the season to which it applies.

At the moment, the assessment of whether a club has exceeded its £1.6m limit cannot be carried out until the season is over. Bradford and Wigan had two competition points deducted last season for salary cap breaches in 2005 and it could be midway through this season before clubs know if they face deductions this time for breaches committed last year.

Under the proposals, Britain will follow the model of Australia's National Rugby League by policing clubs' spending during the season and imposing any punishments immediately. Wood said the change would mean that the cap would prevent overspending, rather than merely punishing it.

The theory is that, combined with a drastic reduction in overseas players, the new salary-cap culture will make clubs run their businesses more prudently.

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